I’ve been asked twice now how I “deal” with the competition of other playwrights. And both times, I’ve pushed back that I believe in community not competition. I am so uninterested in pitting myself against other artists.
When I’m feeling arrogant, I like to say “no one else is in my lane. I’m competing against myself.” But what I mean by that is I have a unique voice and as long as I stay true to that voice, that’s all that matters to me. I’m interested in writing stories about queer women of color put in really complicated and messy situations. And even if there are a million other queer women playwrights of color who are also Afro-Latinx, they will never write the way I write. So why create enemies?
I’m so much more interested in creating a community of writers who I love and respect. A collective of artists who I cheer on and who I know are cheering me on. I want to be surrounded by people who inspire me, people who I inspire, and people who challenge me to be constantly better. And I want to challenge them too.
But, also I want to grab a drink (alcoholic or coffee) and talk about this batsh*t decision we made when we said we wanted to be artists.
My blog touches on this in a lot of different posts but I’ve never written specifically about it so I figured now was a good time:
I could not be a playwright, I could not be where I am today, without the friends I’ve met along the way. Doing this alone is unbearably heartbreaking and without my playwright friends, my artist friends, I would not have made it past my first reading.
In November 2017, for the first time ever, a theatre company flew me out to see a reading of my play, Good Bad People. They paid for the flight and the housing. I was flying to Chicago and was sure I’d be fine because I had friends there. But, as I sometimes forget, my friends had lives and were busy.
So thank God the woman who ran the airbnb was super friendly. I ended up writing Bring Tea based on this experience. I was able to come back to the house and sit on the couch and drink tea and just talk about everything. We talked about race, gender, art, and the moments in our lives we felt changed everything. It was absolutely magical. And yes I did eventually see my friends and that was great but when I look back what I think about most is the kindness of this stranger and how those three days forever changed me for the better.
The next time wasn’t until a year later. And this time, I was in a hotel room and I was alone. Which was great. I loved the hotel room and I loved that I got to have some room for myself.
But for the first three days, I was super lonely. I would be in rehearsal all day and then spend the evenings writing and watching TV. I didn’t really want to go out on my own.
And then a playwright friend, Meredith, came. And we got dinner. And we only talked for maybe an hour but that hour meant so much to me. We were able to talk about what frustrated us and what excited us about theatre, we talked about playwrights we loved, and what our dreams were. And that re-lit a spark in me.
The next day, I got brunch with another playwright friend, Mark, and we talked about life. And how heavy it all can be. We talked about theatre a little bit but what I remember most is talking about mental illness, sexuality, and just the sudden surprises that throw us off course.
The next playwriting adventure, I had two different playwright roommates at different times. Sofya and I talked about love, heartbreak, and what it means to be a woman and an artist. April and I talked about what we owe our communities as artists and how we’ve failed those who need theatre most.
And then the next playwriting adventure I was on my own. And it broke my heart.
I recently got back from Sarasota after a short residency with Florida Studio Theatre. I got to room with one of my favorite playwrights and had she not been there, the whole week would’ve been drastically different.
The play I wrote needed heavy edits and I don’t know if I was understanding why. Or understanding the notes I was getting. Luckily, Jackie was there to help translate. Sometimes it feels like playwrights speak a different language and it was nice to have her there to help me make sense of what I was missing.
And then at night, we talked about life, playwriting, and everything in between. I cried on the flight back, partially from exhaustion but also partially from being so fulfilled. I didn’t know how much I needed to talk to a playwright friend face to face. And for an extended period of time.
This career is isolating, lonely, and heartbreaking. It’s constant rejection, constantly being told you’re not good enough, and constant striving for something relatively unattainable. It means constantly convincing yourself you can do the impossible.
And that’s really hard to do without a support system.
I am so incredibly thankful for all my artist friends, not just the playwrights. I’m friends with photographers, visual artists, poets, comics, musicians, all kinds of theatre artists. And they keep me going. They carry me over to the next day. There’s nothing like knowing you can send a quick text to someone about some awful thing that’s happened and there’s someone on the other side who understands
(Thanks Darcy for being on the other side of some of my most dramatic texts.)
Find artists who get you. Find artists who lift you up. And find ways to lift up others. It will change your life like you never imagined.
*I intentionally didn’t use last names because this post isn’t about name dropping. If you know who I’m talking about, cool. If you don’t, great! The point isn’t to say “look at all these cool people” but rather to say build community.
**There are people who aren’t mentioned here who are my nearest and dearest. Know that I couldn’t make it without you, either.